ntary living are independent of costs related to obesity.  Conservative estimates show that about 29% of adults report no leisure-time physical activity, and only include costs related to those with a BMI of 30 or more.  24.3 billion dollars were spent on direct healthcare costs due to sedentary living in 1995 U.S. dollars, or 2.4% of all annual U.S. healthcare costs.  Furthermore, 70 billion dollars were spent on obesity-related direct healthcare expenditures that year, or 7% of total annual U.S. healthcare expenditures.  Indirect costs related to obesity amount to no less than 48 billion dollars.  The combined direct costs of inactivity and obesity total 94 billion dollars, and the combined direct and indirect costs total 142 billion dollars in 1995.[22]  By 1998, obesity-related costs accounted for 9.1% of healthcare expenditures[23].  Obesity-related annual hospital costs for children reached $127 million in 1997-1999[24].

      Medicare expenditures have been found to be positively correlated with elevated BMI measured earlier in life.  In a study looking at Medicare claims between 1984 to 2002 after previous baseline screening by the Chicago Heart Association between 1967 and 1973, all health care charges were totaled and annualized for each participant.  Subjects were categorized by BMI as non-overweight, overweight, obese, and severely obese.  Among men, a significant positive relation was observed between BMI and inpatient and outpatient hospital-related Medicare charges.  Charges for severely obese men were 84% higher than for non-overweight men.  A similar phenomenon was found in the women as well.  For patients aged 65 to 83 years, when followed until death, their cumulative CVD-related, diabetes-related, and total Medicare charges, adjusted for age, race, education, and smoking were higher with higher BMI.  For the men in the study, there was a statistically significant positive, direct association between BMI and average annual number of hospital visits and hospital days.  In 2003, about 7% of Medicare expenditures were attributable to obesity.  The study concluded with a warning, stating, “With current trends of increasing overweight and obesity afflicting all age groups, urgent preventive measures are required not only to lessen the burden of disease and disability associated with excess weight but also to contain future health care costs incurred by the aging population.  Public health efforts need to include comprehensive national strategies and resources for primary prevention of weight gain from early life on, with the goal to contain and end the obesity epidemic and reduce health care costs among older persons.[25]

c.                               Psychosocial

Overweight and obese children may experience depression due to concerns over their body image.  They may be teased and bullied by their peers.  Low self-esteem and a preoccupation with body image may prevent obese children from participating in sports and other activities.  As obesity tracks from childhood to adulthood, they may experience discrimination in the workforce and social marginalization[26].

Review of childhood obesity prevention programs 

a. School-based interventions

  1. Programs that work

Veugelers and Fitzgerald conducted a survey of schools in the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia.  They compared schools with and without policies in place that offer healthy menu alternatives in the cafeteria to schools utilizing a coordinated program for school-based healthy eating recommended by the CDC.  The latter program is called “Annapolis Valley Health Promoting Schools Project,” or AVHPSP.  “Students from schools that are part of the AVHPSP exhibited lower rates of overweight and obesity and had better dietary habits in terms of higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, less calorie intake from fat, and higher dietary quality index scores.  Also, these students reported more participation in physical activities and less participation in sedentary activities[27].”  The schools with the nutrition program only were not better off in regards to overweight and obesity rates than schools without a nutrition program.

Bayne-Smith et al compared The Physical Activity and Teenage Health (PATH) Program to traditional PE classes for urban teenage girls in three New York City schools.  The PATH program consisted of a brief education session on cardiovascular health followed by a 20-25 minute exercise session five days a week that alternated daily between strength training and aerobic exercise over a 12 week period.  PATH participants displayed significant decreases in body fat percentage and blood pressure, as well as increased heart health knowledge and likelihood of eating breakfast compared to participants in the traditional PE program.  The PATH program is adaptable, flexible, and inexpensive, and has been adopted in about 50 schools[28].

Addressing nutritional content of food in schools, the TACOS(Trying Alternative Cafeteria Options in Schools) study, conducted by French et al, looked at the effect of increasing availability of lower-fat foods in a la carte cafeteria items and student-led promotion of healthy food choices.  The TACOS study occurred in 20 secondary schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area that were randomly assigned to the environmental intervention program or the no-intervention control site over a two-year period.  Results of the study show that the intervention schools had more availability of a la carte foods that were lower in fat as well as a significantly higher percentage of sales from lower fat a la carte foods.  The success of the TACOS program demonstrates that making changes in the school food environment to increase availability and awareness of healthier foods had a significant impact on the sale of those foods to students[29].

To assess the utility of screening for childhood obesity, a school-based obesity screening program for fifth graders was initiated in West Virginia by Demerath et al

as part of the CARDIAC(Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Applalachian Communities) study.  In this community, as determined by survey, 11% of children lacked health insurance, demonstrating a need to conduct obesity screening in locations other than physician offices.  Approximately 45% of the children studied were either overweight or obese.  Obesity was associated with a significant increase in lipid levels and blood pressure.  By parental report, only 63% of obese children and 26% of overweight children were identified by their physician as being at an elevated weight proportionate to their height and age.  The intervention was relatively inexpensive and minimally invasive to implement.  The information obtained from universal childhood obesity screening can alert children, parents, and physicians to the problem of obesity so that a plan of action can be formulated to address the problem[30].


ii.                  Programs that don’t work

One such program is called New Moves, an obesity prevention program for adolescent girls.  New Moves “was offered as a girls-only alternative physical education program that high-school girls took for credit.”  The program was based on social cognitive theory.  Components of the 16-week program include physical activity, nutrition and social support sessions.  There was a parental component focusing on increasing support of the girls.  A follow-up at 8 months post-intervention was performed to compare to baseline.  There were no differences in BMI between the groups at post-intervention or follow-up, but there was a significant difference of progression of stage of change for physical activity in the intervention group compared to the control group.[31]

 “The Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH) was a NHLBI-sponsored multi-center, school-based intervention study promoting healthy eating, physical activity, and tobacco non-use by elementary school children.”[32]  The study was presented as one of several articles on the program in an issue of “Preventive Medicine.”   The articles reviewed the effects of school PE class, parental involvement, psychosocial determinants of diet and exercise, changes in cardiovascular risk factors, and maintenance of diet and exercise 3 years after the study ended.  The program was based on social cognitive theory.  This randomized trial included 5106 children from 4 states of multi-ethnic backgrounds, and 4019 of them were available for follow-up (79%).  The authors concluded that although there was a statistically significant difference in eating and physical activity behavior, there was not significant improvement in BMI, blood pressure, or blood chemistry.  Interestingly, there were differential effects of the program on BMI and lipid profile when comparing race and gender.  The behavioral changes were sustained at 3 year follow-up.[33]

iii.                Programs yet to be evaluated

      Girls health Enrichment Multi-site Studies (GEMS) investigates novel approaches to obesity prevention in young African American girls, with a cohort of 9-10 year old African American and white girls.  GEMS is a “multi-site research program created to develop and test interventions to prevent obesity in African-American pre-adolescent girls.”[34]  This is an ongoing two-phase study sponsored by the NHLBI.  In Phase 1, different interventions were initiated at the individual centers of the trial, with the outcome being prevention of excessive weight gain.  The effectiveness of each intervention will be evaluated, and the intervention that is most effective will be applied to the rest of the centers in Phase 2.

      ‘Pathways’ is “a culturally appropriate obesity-prevention program for American Indian schoolchildren.”  It studies a group that did not have any pre-existing evidence on youth obesity prevention, and undertook a feasibility study prior to enacting the program to better understand American Indian beliefs and behaviors.  Pathways is based on social learning theory.  The four areas of Pathways include a classroom component, PE, parental involvement, and nutrition in the cafeteria.[35]  While there are no results in this part of the study, it is instructive to see the preparation that went into developing the program.

      Hip-Hop to Health Jr. is “an obesity prevention program for preschool minority children” funded by the NHLBI of the NIH.  The program is integrated into Head Start programs in Chicago, and its goal is to “alter the trajectory toward overweight/obesity in African-American and Latino preschool children.”  The program runs 14 weeks, is culturally and developmentally sensitive, and has a parental component.  It will also be monitoring outcomes at 12 and 24 months after the intervention.  This program is based on social learning theory, self-determination theory, and the transtheoretical model for change.  This randomized, controlled intervention focused on healthy eating and physical activity.[36]

A new study currently underway in Georgia is called MCG (Medical College of Georgia) FitKid Project.  The program, led by Dr. Yin and sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), is a randomized, school-based after school program for elementary school.  The three-year program, in a cooperative arrangement with the Richmond County Board of Education(RBCE), aims to prevent childhood obesity by providing academic enrichment, physical activity, and healthy snacks to participants for two hours immediately after school, five days a week.  RBCE provides bus transportation to all participants.  Outcomes will be monitored at baseline and yearly, including: percentage of body fat, fitness levels, blood pressure, and lipid levels.  The program will be completed at the end of the 2005-2006 school year[37].

b. Community-based interventions

i.   Programs that work

Committed to Kids is a program for overweight adolescents and their families conducted weekly in an outpatient setting.  The four components of the program involve medical, psychosocial, nutrition, and exercise interventions.  The sessions were 2 hours in duration.  The participants were provided a specific nutrition and exercise program based on their initial level of obesity.  Each participant was given an initial medical evaluation with quarterly checkups.  The program lasted for one year.  By the end of the year, participants reduced their mean BMI from 32.3 to 28.2, and the percentage of their mean ideal body weight from 177 to 141.9.  Factors contributing to the success of the program include: An entertaining curriculum that leads to weight loss, involvement of families, and quarterly feedback[38].

As part of a multidisciplinary outpatient pediatric weight management program, Sothern et al studied the use of a resistance training exercise program.   The overall program included nutrition, exercise, and behavior modification.  Over a one year period, no injuries were reported related to the prescribed exercise program.  At one year, total body weight, percent of ideal body weight, BMI, and percent body fat were significantly decreased from baseline.  This study supports the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine that supervised resistance training can be safe and effective for preadolescent children[39].

ii.                  Programs that don’t work

A review of 14 interventions to prevent childhood obesity by Castano et al included two community-based programs: Stanford GEMS pilot study by Robinson and an intervention for African-American mothers and their daughters by Stolley.  Both programs lasted 3 months and included behavioral modification, physical activity, and parental involvement; in addition, the study by Stolley et al included nutritional education.  After 3 months, there was no statistically significant change in BMI for either program.  In the GEMS pilot, however, there was a reduction in the amount of time spent watching television[40].

iii.                Programs that have yet to be evaluated

      In Cleveland, a pilot clinical and research program dubbed “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight is being launched at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.  The program will track patients ages 7-18 that have a BMI > 85th percentile.  The participants will undergo a 14-week program of diet, exercise, behavior change, and lectures for their family on a range of heath topics.  The patients will be seen weekly to monitor progress, and will be provided with local community resources related to diet and exercise to help them along.  Participation and changes in weight and BMI will be monitored to identify candidates for a later phase in the program that will include pharmacologic management and surgical evaluation.[41]

      An initiative in Chicago called the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) began in 2003.  This consortium is based on an ecological model of childhood obesity prevention, recognizing the individual, family, community, and society each have a role in solving the problem.  There are over 320 participant groups involved in the consortium.  CLOCC’s structure is based on six working groups reporting to an executive committee, which is overseen by the CLOCC directors.  The working groups will address diversity, clinical practice, data surveillance, governmental and non-governmental policies and programs, and research.  Grants of up to $20,000 are awarded for innovative obesity prevention projects.  Programs are aimed for the developmental stages in which children are most at risk of becoming overweight or obese.  CLOCC may serve as a model for local, cooperative approaches to obesity prevention[42].

Prevention recommendations/guidelines

      In response to the report by the CDC that obesity has become the second-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services has started an initiative to help find ways to live healthier lives.  The program is called “Small Steps,” and it emphasizes that becoming physically fit and eating right occurs one small step at a time, and that being active should not occur exclusively when one is exercising, but should be incorporated into daily life.  The initiative lists 118 small, simple steps to healthier living, including number 67, “Take stairs instead of the escalator,” and number 77, “Remove skin from poultry before cooking to lower fat content[43].”  The full list of “Small Steps” can be found on their website (see works cited).

      The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a policy statement on the prevention of pediatric overweight and obesity.  Their policy statement includes the following recommendations for pediatricians to follow: Yearly BMI calculation, encouragement of breastfeeding, encourage healthy eating, promote routine physical activity, and limitation of “screen time” to no more than 2 hours a day.  The childhood overweight and obesity prevention advocacy recommendations include measures related to policy, insurance, research, family and community resources, and social marketing[44].


      The epidemic of childhood obesity has serious health, economic, and social repercussions for individuals and for the nation.  Prevention of obesity works better than treatment of obesity, and prevention should begin in early childhood.  There are many factors outside the realm of individual behavior that contribute to the “obesogenic” environment, and these issues must be addressed in a multidisciplinary way at all levels of government and society.  Some successful childhood obesity prevention and treatment programs have been identified; others, while well intentioned, have not proven to be effective.  Furthermore, some are still underway and should be monitored closely.

Lastly, it should be noted that all of the obesity prevention programs generally follow the same format and recommendations.  It may be that radical, new approaches to childhood obesity prevention are needed.  Some suggestions:

-Eliminate school bus service for children who live less than two miles from school.  Of course, safe school walk/bike routes will have to be established for this to be successful.

-Make P.E. mandatory for grades 1-12, one hour a day.

-Make of physical activity standards part of the college admission process.

-Screen all children for elevated BMI at each doctor visit and annually at school, sending all overweight children to a local, successful childhood obesity prevention and treatment program that is covered by insurance.

-T.V.’s that either run on bicycle, rowing, or jogging in place.  In addition, the television would be set for a maximum of 2 hours use per day.  The amount of TV time could alternatively be set to the amount of exercise done per day, measured by a pedometer or other device.  A child who exercises for an hour gets to watch one hour of TV or surf the web for 1 hour or play one hour of video games.  Each of these machines would have a device to know how much time the child has accrued, and shuts off once the time has expired.

      -Build modern sports and fitness centers throughout each community that will provide a safe environment.  Charge nothing.  The future savings of fewer healthcare dollars spent on obesity-related disease management will pay for the facilities and staff.

-Take vending machine color-coding of snacks and beverages one step further.  On each student’s ID card, incorporate into the magnetic strip parental restrictions on what their children can buy and how much.  Children will not be able to buy anything from the vending machine until parents inform the school of their preferences.  Pretty soon, snack companies will change what they offer in vending machines, realizing they can make the same amount of money or more selling healthier foods and beverages.

-Upgrade the public school meal program to use only the highest quality foods, serving a healthy breakfast and lunch to students.  The food should be fresh, tasty, healthy, and affordable, with no unhealthy choices on the menu to lead children astray.


References for further reading

a.                         Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th edition

b.              Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance.  Institute of                                            Medicine, 2005

      c.              “Obesity” issue of American Journal of Public Health, September 2004.

      d.              www.cdc.gov























[1] The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity 2001, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD

2 CDCP. 2004. At a Glance. Physical Activity and Good Nutrition: Essential Elements to Prevent Chronic Diseases and Obesity 2004. Atlanta, GA: US DeptHHS, CDCP, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

[3] JAMA, January 19,2005- Vol 293, No.3, “Correction: Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000.  Mokdad, Marks, Stroup, Gerberding.


[4] Flegal, Graubard, Williamson, and Gail. “Excess Deaths Associated with Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity. JAMA. 2005; 293(15): 1861-1867.

[5] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/overwght99.htm


[6] http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/facts/obesity/en/

7 IOM, September 2004. Childhood Obesity in the United States: Facts and Figures.  Excerpt from Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005.

8 IOM, September 2004.  Overview of the IOM’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Study.  Excerpt from Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005.

9 CDCP. 2004. At a Glance. Physical Activity and Good Nutrition: Essential Elements to Prevent Chronic Diseases and Obesity 2004. Atlanta, GA: US DeptHHS, CDCP, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.




[10] American Journal of Public Health. 2005; 95: 236-237.  “Prevalence of Active Commuting at Urban and Suburban Elementary Schools in Columbia, S.C.  Sirard, Ainsworth, McIver, Pate.

[11] American Journal of Health Promotion.  2004; 19(2): 128-136.  “Neighborhood Design and Rates of Walking and Biking to Elementary School in 34 California Communities.”  Braza, Shoemaker, Seeley.

12 Swinburn, Egger, Raza. 1999 Dec. Dissecting Obesogenic Environments: The Development and Application of a Framework for Identifying and Prioritizing Environmental Interventions for Obesity. Preventive Medicine. 29(6 Pt 1):563-570.

[13] American Journal of Health Promotion.  2004; 19(1):33-38. “A Schematic for Focusing on Youth in Investigations of Community Design and Physical Activity.”  Krizek, Birnbaum, Levinson.

[14] American Journal of Health Promotion. 2004; 19(1): 39-44. “When Worlds Collide: Observations on the Integration of Epidemiology and Transportation Behavioral Analysis in the Study of Walking.”  Coogan, P. and Coogan, M.

[15] American Journal of Health Promotion. 2004;19(2): 137-143. “The Relationship Between Obesity and the Prevalence of Fast Food Restaurants: State-Level Analysis.”  Maddock.

16 Ransdell, Taylor, Oakland et al.  2003. Daughters and Mothers Exercising Together: Effects of Home- and Community-Based Programs. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.  pp. 286-296

17 Golan, Weizman, and Fainaru.  1999. Impact of Treatment for Childhood Obesity on Parental Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease. Preventive Medicine. 29:519-526.


[18] Drewnowski, Darmon, and Briend.  “Replacing Fats and Sweets with Vegetables and Fruits- A Question of Cost.”  American Journal of Public Health. 2004; 94(9): 1555-1559.

[19] IOM, September 2004. Childhood Obesity in the United States: Facts and Figures.  Excerpt from Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005.


[20] IOM, September 2004. Childhood Obesity in the United States: Facts and Figures.  Excerpt from Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005.


[21] Pediatric Blood Cancer.  2005. Feb 7.  “Regulation of body mass and management of childhood overweight.” Daniels, SR.

21 Colditz, G. 1999 Nov. Economic costs of obesity and inactivity.  Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 31(11 S): S663-7


[23] www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/economic_consequences

[24] IOM, September 2004. Overview of the IOM’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Study.  Excerpt from Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005.


[25] JAMA, December 8, 2004- Vol 292, No. 22.  “Relation of Body Mass Index in Young Adulthood and Middle Age to Medicare Expenditures in Older Age. Daviglus, Liu, Yan, et al.

[26] IOM, September 2004. Childhood Obesity in the United States: Facts and Figures.  Excerpt from Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2005.


[27] Veugelers and Fitzgerald.  “Effectiveness of School Programs in Preventing Childhood Obesity: A Multilevel Comparison.”  American Journal of Public Health.  2005; 95(3): 432-435.

[28] Bayne-Smith, Fardy, Azzollini, Magel, Schmitz, and Agin.  “Improvements in Heart Health Behaviors and Reduction in Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors in Urban Teenaged Girls Through a School-Based Intervention: The PATH Program.”  American Journal of Public Health.  2004; 94(9): 1538-1543.

[29] French, Story, Fulkerson, and Hannan.  “An Environmental Intervention to Promote Lower-Fat Food Choices in Secondary Schools: Outcomes of the TACOS Study.”  American Journal of Public Health. 2004; 94(9): 1507-1512.

[30] Demerath, Muratova, Spangler, Li, Minor, Neal.  “School-based obesity screening in rural Appalachia.”  Preventive Medicine. 2003; 37: 553-560.

30 Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Stat, Rex.  2003. New Moves: a school-based obesity prevention program for adolescent girls.  Preventive Medicine. 37:41-51.

31 Webber, Osganian, Feldman, et al.  1996.  Cardiovascular Risk Factors among Children after a 2 ˝ Year Intervention- The CATCH Study.  Preventive Medicine. 25: 432-441.

32 Nader, Stone, Lytle, et al.  1999 Jul. Three-Year Maintinence of Improved Diet and Physical Activity: The CATCH Cohort.  Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 153: 695-704.




33 Obarzanek, Pratt.  2003.  Girls Health Enrichment Multi-site Studies(GEMS): New Approaches to Obesity Prevention among Young African-American Girls. Ethnicity and Disease, 13: S1-1-S1-5.

34 Davis, Going, Helitzer, et al.  1999 Apr. Pathways: a culturally appropriate obesity-prevention program for American Indian schoolchildren.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 69(4 S): 767S-772S.

35 Fitxgibbon, Stolley, Dyer, et al.  2002.  A Community-Based Obesity Prevention Program for Minority Children: Rationale and Study Design for Hip-Hop to Health Jr. Preventive Medicne. 34: 289-297.

[37] Yin, Janes, Moore, Humbles, Barbeau, and Gutin.  “An After-School Physical Activity Program for Obesity Prevention in Children.”  Evaluation and the Health Profession. 2005; 28(1): 67-89.

[38] Sothern, Schumacker, von Almen, Carlisle, and Udall. “Committed to Kids: An integrated, 4-level team approach to weight management in adolescents.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2002; 102(3): S81-S85.

[39] Sothern, Loftin, Udall, Suskind, Ewing, Tang, and Blecker.  “Inclusion of Resistance Exercise in a multidisciplinary outpatient treatment program for preadolescent obese children.” Southern Medical Journal. 1999; 92(6): 585-592.

[40] Castano, Doreste, and Serra-Majem. “Effectiveness of interventions in the prevention of childhood obesity.” European Journal of Epidemiology. 2004; 19: 617-622.

[41] Pediatric Update.  Winter 2005. Volume 2, Issue 1. “Rainbow Pilot Research Program Targets Growing Obesity Epidemic in Children.”

[42] Longjohn.  Chicago Project Uses Ecological Approach to Obesity Prevention.” Pediatric Annals. 2004; 33(1): 55-63.

[43] http://www.smallstep.gov


[44] “Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity.”  Policy Statement of The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition.  Pediatrics. 2003;112(2):424-430.





a.                               BMI calculator

1.      Weight in kilograms / height in m˛

2.      Weight in pounds / height in inches˛ * 703

3.      http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm

4.      http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/bmi-for-age.htm

b.                              BMI chart for girls and boys, ages 2-20, 5th to 95th percentile; see pp.27-28

1.      www.cdc.gov/growthcharts

c.               Institute of Medicine’s recommended steps to confront the epidemic of childhood obesity, see p. 29